Before I became confirmed and a member of the Church of England and whilst I was still a Quaker I also took a great interest in Buddhism and attended a large number of different teachings and groups. This included the Order of the Western Buddhists and a local Tibetan Buddhist group, later I became interested in Zen Buddhism and attended days run by Catholic priests who were also Zen roshis. I was definitely searching for more than I was finding at the Society of Friends and so when I joined the Tibetan Buddhist Sangha I took refuge.
‘Taking refuge’ is a way of making a commitment; for me it was when I thought that Buddhism would be the path and that I would want to base my life on Buddhist principles. The general idea is that you make a commitment to Buddhism partly to grow and develop your own spiritual life but also so that through that growth and development you can help others more. So I was agreeing to study and take on the principles of Buddhism.
The greatest sense of commitment is to learn to tame your mind, to develop loving-kindness and compassion and so to help other people when people need your help. When you have developed your mind properly then you will be willing to give help when people need it, and not just when you feel in the right mood. That commitment is the main vow; and taking refuge means that you agree to train your mid in this way.
But I never really felt that I belonged or really wanted to belong to this spiritual path. There seemed much to learn from Buddhism – not least how to meditate but I was also encouraged when I read Thomas Merton about Christian contemplation and how this too could be something that lay people practised.
However the phrase ‘taking refuge’ can apply to the church and also to analysis …I think really it means that we can’t undertake spiritual and psychological searching alone. We need a shelter…a sanctuary. It means making a connection rather than feeling alone or alienated. The connection is with Wisdom… which is not intellectual knowledge or ‘knowing about’. The thing is that Wisdom is a way of knowing which opens us to being found so that we are not lost in the cosmos nor in society but found in them. This connection with Wisdom means that we respond to the world not as a detached objective observer but rather with an intuitive participatory awareness of what Thomas Merton called the hidden wholeness of all reality. It becomes a knowing within that we are loved and part of everything.